Vatican's Address at U.N. on Importance of Education for Development

“Goals for the Decade Must Go Beyond Primary Schooling”

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NEW YORK, OCT. 28, 2003 ( Here is the address of the Holy See’s permanent observer to the United Nations, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, before the Committee of the General Assembly concerned with the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

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Mr. Chairman,

The Dakar Framework — Education for All — was one step of the journey that the international community has taken along the way of recognizing that education is an essential part of development. At Jomtien (1990) the World Declaration on Education for All stated that all people, children, young people and adults, have the human right to an education that is “geared to tapping each individual’s talents and potential so that they can improve their lives and transform their societies.”

The Jomtien Declaration introduced us to a deeper understanding of the role that education plays in development. Though it did not actually speak of making educational programs a tool for development, the Declaration was an important step in understanding the key role that education plays in promoting and protecting human rights, social development, economic development and the protection of the environment — all of which are the pillars of sustainable development.

Society has indeed been transformed since the Jomtien Declaration of 1990. At Rio, during the 1992 Conference on Environment and Development, governments realized the link between education and sustainable development and agreed upon a broad range of programs through which education would be involved in all the aspects of development. This recognition has been carried through the conferences and summits since Rio, including last year’s World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg.

At Johannesburg, education was discussed above all in the context of protecting the environment. “An education in ecological responsibility is urgent: responsibility for oneself, for others, and for the earth. This education cannot be rooted in mere sentiments or empty wishes. Its purpose cannot be ideological nor political. It must not be based on a rejection of the modern world or a vague desire to return to some ‘paradise lost.’ Instead, true education in responsibility entails a genuine conversion in ways of thought and behavior” (John Paul II, Message for the World Day of Peace, 1 January 1990).

The Holy See has long been convinced of the importance of education for social and economic development. Schools, educational, literacy and vocational training centers continue to be one of the great achievements of the Church in its educational programs throughout the world, not only in its social activities in developing countries, but in any location where knowledge is seen as a means toward a better life. Thousands of primary and secondary schools as well as literacy centers, and the structures that support them, operated by Church agencies, provide a place where children, young people and adults can build a foundation for a better life. The first educator, however, is the family, where the child learns to respect his neighbor and to love nature.

The launching of the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development is to take place on 1 January 2005. This coincides with the Millennium Development Goals which state that by 2015, “children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling and that girls and boys will have equal access to all levels of education.”

However, plans and goals for the Decade must go beyond primary schooling. Programs during the Decade must also continue to address the problem of out-of-school children. It is on this issue, Mr. Chairman, that we clearly see the links between educational opportunities and development. Children are not in school, because there is no school to go to or there is no money to pay the tuition fees or the teachers’ salary; because they are forced to work for their own survival or to support their family; because they have been abducted and thrust into situations of armed conflict, with schools closed or destroyed; because they belong to religious or ethnic minorities; or simply because it is impossible for them to find a school within the range of their possibilities.

Such children, deprived as they are of educational opportunities, are most liable to exclusion from development and, excluded from development, will most probably remain illiterate for the rest of their lives. This vicious cycle must be broken. Moreover, programs during the Decade must maintain the focus on the questions of gender disparities at all levels of education and of the almost 900 million adults who are illiterate.

We look forward with hope and expectations that, thanks to the commitment made by the General Assembly to call for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, its observance will be crowned with success, especially in providing educational opportunities to all people: children, youth and adults.

Education for sustainable development is a means to achieving many, if not most of the Millennium Development Goals. It will help create an environment that is “conducive to development and to the elimination of poverty.” Realizing and reaching those goals may take time, but providing all with educational opportunities will have an immediate, verifiable and measurable impact on the well-being of the people of the world and on their sustainable development.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

[Original text: English]

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